Players shocked over Pena resignation

Players shocked over Pena resignation

TORONTO -- Mike Sweeney walked into the Royals clubhouse on Wednesday morning, dressed in a black suit with a Royal blue shirt -- an outfit befitting the news that the team's former manager, Tony Pena, resigned just hours before.

"It's tough," said Sweeney, who looked tired and worn out after a long, sleepless night. "We're sorry that Tony felt that he had to resign because he's a proud man. We're definitely going to miss him."

To a man, Royals players were in shock over the sudden absence of their leader. But too many losses and too many mental mistakes finally took their toll on the upbeat Pena.

"It was surprising," said pitcher Zack Greinke, who didn't get to sleep until 4:00 a.m. ET after walking the streets of Toronto upon hearing the news from his girlfriend a couple hours earlier. "I think everyone knew he was having a hard time, but we didn't really know exactly how tough. You could see it was wearing on him, so hopefully, he's happier now. After taking a couple of weeks off, maybe he'll feel better, because the stress he was going through was too much for anyone doing that."

Greinke was actually one of the few players that Pena didn't have to fret about. The 21-year-old has held his own his sophomore season, and pitched a gem of a game in Tuesday's loss to the Blue Jays, Pena's last contest as Royals skipper. Afterwards, Pena congratulated Greinke on another fine performance, but the youngster knew something was up.

"You obviously can't tell that he was about to do that, but you could tell after the game he was a little more emotional about it," Greinke said. "You could see his eyes watering because he had a lot going through his mind. So you could tell something was going on with him. You couldn't tell what it was, but he really had a lot of emotions."

Throughout the year, Pena watched as his young team struggled with growing pains, making both mental and physical mistakes in getting off to its worst start in club history.

"There's not a [darn] thing he could have done different," Matt Stairs said. "He's not the one that puts the cleats on and he's not the one who plays the game. You can look in this clubhouse and see that it's a team of 25, but only one guy has played well. Guys better open up their eyes and realize that we are the cause of this, and the reason he resigned. If we would have played better baseball, or smarter baseball, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Tuesday night's finish epitomized the mental lapses that Pena struggled to find a cure for. Down 3-1, Angel Berroa led off the ninth inning with a double, but was doubled off second a batter later when Sweeney lined a shot to Vernon Wells, who caught the ball in medium-depth center field. Berroa was nearly halfway between second and third before realizing Wells had snagged the ball and was about to throw it to shortstop Russ Adams.

A subdued Berroa sat in front of his locker stall in the Kansas City clubhouse Wednesday morning, shocked by the Pena news.

"Yeah, it surprised me," Berroa said without lifting his head.

"The relationship he had with the players was a good one, I think. He told you how it was, and he was a players' coach."
-- David DeJesus

Pena's penchant for working with young players may be the thing that the Royals will miss the most. Always trying to be one of the guys, Pena would regularly throw batting practice, and was caught working with the pitchers on grounders before Tuesday's game.

"He's really helped me with my progression as far as being a Major League baseball player, so it was one of those things that I'm sorry to see him go," center fielder David DeJesus said. "The relationship he had with the players was a good one, I think. He told you how it was, and he was a players' coach. Even though we would lose, we would try and keep our heads up, so he was definitely one of the best coaches I've ever played for."

Whether the change will help the Royals in the standings is anybody's guess. Interim manager Bob Schaefer met with the team a couple of hours before Wednesday's matinee to try and calm any nerves or fears.

Schaefer was serving as Pena's right-hand man as bench coach.

"I think he'll do a great job," Sweeney said.

Still, the players know full well they have lost not only a well-respected manager, but a true friend in Pena.

"He's always been the same," Sweeney said. "He's always had a smile on his face. No matter if we were winning or losing, he was always optimistic and outgoing. Unfortunately, he didn't stick."

Bob Matuszak is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.